A measure proposing an increase in California’s vehicle license fee may appear on the ballot this fall. Is this something Californians are ready for? The topic is one that has previously received much opposition. Two advocacy groups, Rebuild California and Transportation California, are behind the proposal to raise the vehicle license fee from 0.65% to 1.65%. Revenue from this increase would go toward road repairs and maintenance. The state holds a $27 billion backlog in road repair projects, and previous attempts to fill this funding gap have failed. The groups estimate that the new tax would generate $2.9 billion per year in its first years and assert that the fees would not be used for highway expansion. Rebuild CA and Transportation CA are waiting on poll results to determine whether or not to move forward with this measure. While the measure so far appears to have a shot at passing in the fall, there has also been pushback reported by certain media outlets. Furthermore, more than 800,000 signatures are needed before April 14.
New regulations from the Federal Communications Commission may soon allow cellphone use during flights. However, even before a requisite public comment period has commenced, a survey revealed that travelers are opposed to the concept. (The FCC website provides more information on the proposed regulation.) Also, the Transportation Security Administration uncovered 1,828 firearms across all airports in 2013, a 20% increase over last year, with about 84% of these loaded upon detection.
Three streetcar lines are projected to open this year. The Tucson SunLink will bring urban rail to the desert city for the first time, while Seattle’s First Hill Streetcar will connect hill-fairing residents to the lower parts of downtown and major sports venues. The Atlanta Streetcar will also make its debut this year. Curiously, the streetcar will feature longer vehicles that are more reminiscent of light rail systems. Meanwhile, at least 15 cities will continue construction on their streetcars. This includes Cincinnati, whose under-construction streetcar was briefly “paused” on the pretext of fiscal concerns until the City Council voted to restart work when the governing body learned that the city would only marginally save money by stopping the project.
Omnitrans was placed in the media spotlight, specifically on the sbX bus rapid transit project that would provide a speedy transit alternative along a major local corridor in San Bernardino. Currently, Omnitrans Route 2 serves the north/south E-Street corridor; however, getting between the major destinations along the route is slow because its local stops are heavily used making longer distance bus trips slow. sbX will address this, emulating the Metro Orange Line through the higher density areas and Metro Rapid elsewhere. Much of the sbX debate now centers on whether choice riders would switch from their cars and use the bus and whether developers would be inclined to build and invest along the bus route with the abundance of street crime.
We’ll analyze the detailed reporting, remarks from those interviewed, reader comments, and constructive criticism from skeptics. Be sure to follow our Inland Empire Transit Blog for input this week to read updates.
The Metro Finance, Budget and Audit Committee this week will review a report on the rate of fare evasion on the Orange Line busway. According to the report, 22% of riders do not pay a fare at all, while 9% of riders fail to tap their TAP cards before boarding. To that end, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will step up inspections along the line, while the above committee and, in turn, the Metro Board take additional steps to reduce fare evasion.
The Metro Blue Line is in for an upgrade. Over the next several years, Metro will invest more than $850 million for 78 new train sets and to the renovation of 52 train cars. New cars will take on an appearance different from that of current ones, as they will be mainly gray (rather than white with a yellow stripe) with bright yellow fronts and backs. Of the funds for this upgrade, $13 million will go toward new overhead power lines, which flatten with use, causing power shortages and outages. Also, much excitement abounded when it was reported that the contractors in charge of building the Gold Line extension to Azusa installed the first station canopies. The construction authority behind the project hopes to open the line as early as 2015. Meanwhile, the same agency also issued a request for proposals for engineering work on the Montclair extension of the line.
At the federal level, Congress reached a deal on an omnibus budget bill that, among other things, would restore and increase funding for transit programs. The bill provides over $600 million for the TIGER program as well as more money for New Starts and Amtrak capital projects. Southern California will stand to benefit greatly, as the bill includes $130 million for the Purple Line Extension and the Metro Regional Connector. However, the federal bill contains no money for high-speed rail, though CAHSR Authority CEO Dan Richard is set to give testimony on the project at an upcoming House hearing. The bill also requires the Federal Aviation Administration to write rules that would regulate helicopter noise.
Fascinating work is going on beneath our feet, as holes are being dug in big cities that may be near you! For one, 1.7 miles of twin tunnels are in the works in San Francisco. It lies underneath existing MUNI and BART lines, and is part of a $1.5 billion light-rail extension that will be the first new subway route for MUNI in 50 years! There’s also an $800 million, three-mile tunnel in progress in Las Vegas. This one’s not transit related, but is meant to enhance the municipal water supply, so the “straw” can retrieve water when lake levels are low. Other cities with intriguing holes being developed include Seattle, Cleveland, Miami, Washington DC, and two in New York City. Of course, Los Angeles has its own rich history of tunnels.
Last week the Governor released his preliminary budget for 2014 that included a proposal to invest $850 in cap-and-trade auction proceeds in transportation, energy, and natural resource projects. While the proposal overall is a strong first effort to craft an investment strategy to reduce greenhouse gases and benefit Californians there is considerable work to be done. Overall $600 million of the total would go to transportation projects:
- $100 million in Sustainable Communities including public transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects, housing, and conservation
- $200 million in clean transportation including rebates and subsidies for the purchase of low and zero emissions cars, heavy-duty vehicles, and buses
- $250 million for high-speed rail
- $50 million for intercity rail modernization
Despite $600 million going for transportation only $100 million would go into the Sustainable Communities pot to invest in expanding transit, increasing walking and biking, and building affordable homes near transit. This is far less support than is needed to support regional efforts to achieve SB 375 goals and provide real transportation and housing choices for communities.
This amount can be increased by repaying the remaining $400 million in cap-and-trade auction proceeds that was loaned to the General Fund last year or dedicating any additional proceeds from this year’s cap-and-trade auctions that are in excess of the $850 million included in the budget proposal.
Nevertheless, Brown continues to receive consternation regarding his decision to set aside $250 million for HSR. The $68-billion project is encountering opposition from environmental groups that say the benefits of the train would not come until much, much later. Environmentalists would prefer for these monies to go toward projects with more immediate benefits. The money would provide short-term funding, but does not address financing in the longer term. While not lost on this particular challenge, the Los Angeles Times believes that Brown must continue to strengthen the project’s viability, of which setting aside part of the cap-and-trade revenues is just a step in the right direction.
The Brown budget also provides a major fiduciary boost to map out earthquake faults across the state, an initiative that has languished over the past two decades. The lack of accurate maps is partly responsible for what has transpired over two transit-oriented developments in Hollywood, where city officials questioned whether or not there are active faults near or even below these projects. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti is also calling for new initiatives that would strengthen private buildings and infrastructure against large earthquakes.
In other transportation news, LA Curbed mulls whether Metro should pursue creating an entirely new sales tax for transportation or extending the existing Measure R sales tax. In Mexico City, the citizenry is up in arms over a 2-peso increase in transit fares that was started without their consultation. (A previous survey on the issue showed that passengers would support an increase so long as discernible improvements to the transit network were made.) Also, the Federal Transit Administration is calling for better safety regulations that would protect rail workers, in response to the death of two such workers along BART tracks in Walnut Creek.
Finally, take a look at what our resident “Criswell” predicts for transit in 2014.